Stephan Thernstrom: Kerry's Phony Test for War

Roundup: Historians' Take

Stephan Thernstrom, in a letter to the Wash Post (Aug. 12, 2004):

Robert Kagan offered a thoughtful critique of the "Kerry Doctrine" -- that the United States goes to war only "because we have to." I suggest another example he failed to mention.

Did President Abraham Lincoln really have to use force to preserve the Union in 1861? After all, the people of several Southern states were only asserting a right that had been spelled out in the Declaration of Independence long before. These people reached their decision through democratic political processes.

No serious historian would contend that the Confederacy had any designs on Northern territory. Had Lincoln been willing to abandon Fort Sumter instead of resupplying it, 600,000 American deaths could have been avoided.

I believe that Lincoln was un- questionably right to act as he did, but I wonder how supporters of the Kerry Doctrine could reach the same conclusion.

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